How ethical is Boohoo?
Several ethical issues are highlighted in our research of Boohoo, including inadequate supply chain policies, likely use of tax avoidance strategies, underpaying workers in its supply chain in the UK and abroad, lacking adequate animal welfare and animal testing policies, excessive directors’ pay, marketing a product as faux fur when it actually contained real fur, and failing to take meaningful steps to address its climate and environmental impacts.
Below we outline some of these issues. To see the full detailed stories, and Boohoo’s overall ethical rating, please sign in or subscribe.
There have been reports of abuse of workers’ rights in Boohoo’s supply chain, including in Leicester factories, for over a decade.
In 2010 and 2017 Channel 4 covered the issue of workers’ rights at Boohoo in its Dispatches series; the Ethical Trading Initiative explored the issue in 2015; the Financial Times in 2018; and the UK Government's Environmental Audit Committee investigated Boohoo in 2019 and 2020.
Following a Sunday Times article exposing poor working practices in its supply chain, Boohoo commissioned an independent investigation to be carried out by Alison Levitt QC, which was published in September 2020. This stated
“Boohoo’s monitoring of its Leicester supply chain has been inadequate for many years.”
The investigation was carried out after claims that workers were paid below minimum wage (and as low as £3.50 per hour). The investigation said
“allegations of unacceptable working conditions and underpayment of workers are not only well-founded, but are substantially true."
Since the report was released Boohoo has adopted some of its recommendations, such as publishing its first tier UK supplier list. Yet fresh allegations are still coming out, with a December 2020 article in the Guardian revealing that Boohoo had been selling clothes made by Pakistani workers who earned 29p per hour.
Boohoo scored our worst rating for Supply Chain Management. It didn’t appear to audit any of its suppliers outside of the UK and wasn’t part of any multi-stakeholder initiatives. Sourcing from oppressive regimes is common in the clothing sector and, as Boohoo did not disclose the country of origin of its suppliers, it lost half a mark under Ethical Consumer’s Human Rights category.
Boohoo also had no policy against sourcing cotton from Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, even though it is widely known that these are two of the world’s largest exporters of cotton and each year governments forcibly mobilise over one million citizens to grow and harvest cotton.
The company lost a whole mark under Ethical Consumer’s Animal Rights category because items containing leather, wool and down were either listed as for sale or were discussed in company policy as materials. It stated that by 2025 “All our leather, wool, feather and down will be sourced in line with industry best practice”, suggesting that at the time of writing it wasn’t following best practice.
Boohoo was also found to have sold a product that was advertised as faux fur but actually contained real animal fur. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) stated that the product was retailed as “Faux Fur Pom Pom Jumper”, and considered that consumers would understand this to mean that the garment did not contain real animal fur. The Humane Society commissioned an independent test report on the jumper, and found that the “faux fur” was real animal fur - most likely from a rabbit.
Ethical Consumer also found that Boohoo lacked clear policies related to animal testing, despite selling cosmetic products.
Boohoo didn’t appear to have taken adequate steps to address its emissions and scored our worst rating for Carbon Management and Reporting.
The only steps it discussed were LED rollouts and installing solar panels in Burnley and Manchester.
Nothing was mentioned of its supply chain, which is where most of its emissions would occur, nor of transport or other key issues within the clothing sector. While it had carbon reduction targets in line with international agreements, it provided no information about how it planned to meet these targets.
It also scored a worst rating for Environmental Reporting, because it provided negligible detail about environmental issues caused by company activity and its efforts to address them, and it didn’t have any meaningful future dated environmental impact reduction targets.
Boohoo scored our worst rating for its toxic policies related to clothing. Boohoo stated in its Sustainability Plan 2021 that it was launching a 'clothes.made smarter' scheme, saying "We've analysed our material mix and developed guidelines for more sustainable materials, with a big focus on polyester and cotton which are the materials we use the most across the group." But little detail about what this meant was detailed, and no information about whether it sourced sustainable cotton was identified.
It also scored a worst pollution and toxics rating for cosmetics, because it appeared to have no policies prohibiting the use of parabens, triclosan or phthalates.
Boohoo lost a whole mark under our Likely Use of Tax Avoidance Strategies category, because it is incorporated in Jersey, a jurisdiction considered to be a tax haven, despite the majority of its operations being on the UK mainland.
Boohoo told Ethical Consumer that its UK subsidiaries are registered for UK tax and pay UK taxes on all profits, but it remains unclear why Boohoo Group Plc is incorporated in Jersey, meaning that this lack of transparency could facilitate tax avoidance in the future.
Four of Boohoo’s directors were paid over £1m for the year ended February 2021, which was considered to be excessive.
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